Jammu (600 kilometers north of New Delhi) is the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir and the gateway to Kashmir Valley and the western Himalayas. Located on the northern reaches of the plains at an elevation of 305 meters (1,000 feet), this city of about a half a million is a market center and great place to watch everyday Indian life pass by. Marijuana grows wild all over the place.
Jammu has traditionally been the stronghold of the Hindu Dogra kings and is known for its temples and forest retreats. Places worth checking out include the Raghunath Temple, famous for its golden spire, frescoes, shrines and gardens; and the Ranbireshwar Temple, a shrine dedicated to Shiva with many stone and crystal lingams (phallic symbols).
Just outside the city are Peer Khoh, a cave shrine honoring Shiva with a naturally formed "lingam;" Bahu Fort, on the banks of the river Tawi; Bagh-e-Bahu gardens; and Ranbir Canal. Interesting museums include the Amar Mahl Palace Museum, in a building patterned after a French chateau; and the Dogra Art Museum, with its fine collection of miniatures.
Sights in the Jammu Area include Aknoor (32 kilometers from Jammu); miles), a picnic spot on the Chenab river; Batote (120 kilometers from Jammu), a health resort and tourist bungalow complex surrounded by forests and mountains; Mansar Lake (80 kilometers), a beautiful lake surrounded by forested hills; and Purmaandel (40 kilometers), a sacred settlement and center of Shiva worship. Ramnagar (100 kilometers) is famous for its Pahari murals; Surinsar (40 kilometers) is a lovely place for picnic; and Kishtwar High Altitude Park (160 miles) is the home of some rare species of animals and birds.
Patnitop (112 kilometers north of Jammu) is a wonderfully laid back mountain top resort surround by tall dense stands of cedar and pine trees. There are some lovely walks in the area and the cheap tourist bungalows here are a delightful place to relax. It is a great place to camp.
Surrounded by the majestic, snow-clad mountains of the Pir Panjal range, lush greenery and colorful fields, Patnitop sits atop a plateau in the Shivalik belt near the Chenab river. There is a charming legend associated with Patnitop. It is believed that a pond existed amidst the lush green pastures of the area, and the princess of the ruling kingdom used to bathe in it every day. Thus, the pond that was called 'Patan da Talab', or the Pond of the Princess, greatly influenced the name of the place. The hill station is also home to three freshwater springs whose cold water is believed to harbour medicinal properties. Lying on the outskirts of Patnitop are the towns of Kud and Batote. Kud is popular for patissa, also known as soan papdi, while Batote is known for its high-quality kidney beans, known as rajma in Hindi.
Getting There: Situated almost 112 kilometers from Jammu and 47 kilometers from Udhampur, Patnitop is located falls in the Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir By Air: The nearest airport to Patnitop is Jammu Civil Enclave. It connects Patnitop to all important cities in India. By Road: Patnitop is easily accessible through reasonably good roads. Major cities like Delhi and Chandigarh are connected to Patnitop through major highways. There is also good connectivity with town and cities close to Patnitop like Jammu and Pahalgam. By Train: The nearest station to Patnitop is the Jammu Tawi station in Katra district.
Treks and Sights Near Patnitop
Sights Near Patnitop including Gaurikund, natural spring known for its sacred water; Sudh Mahadev Temple, said to be about 2,800 year old; Naag Mandir, a 600-year-old temple on top of a hill in Mantalai; and Sanasa, a conglomeration of two small villages named Sana and Sar.
Pir Panjal Range forms the western edge of the Himalayas and forms the southern side of the Vale of Kashmir. The mountain range has steep canyon walls and peaks that rose over 5790 meters (19,000 feet). People who enter Kashmir by vehicle enter the Vale of Kashmir through a tunnel that penetrated the Pir Pangel range at Banihal Pass. On the Jammu side of the range are the dusty plains of India. On the Kashmir side is the lush greenery of Kashmir and the Himalayas.
Pine Forests of Patnitop are magnificent and full beautiful picnic spots, serene walking trails and a stunning view of the Chenab basin. The trees are quite tall in some places. Their branches are thick, and the trees thrive in the sun, producing a verdant canopy. Snow on the pine branches makes Patnitop a delightful place in the winter. Jammu and Kashmir Tourism as well as the Indian Army have holiday homes here.
Natha Top is reached by a short trek from Patnitop. It in snow during winters. It is a good place for skiing and is also known for paragliding. Situated at an altitude of 2,711 meters, the Kishtwar range of the Himalayas is visible from Natha Top, as is the Brammah Massif, which comprises the well-known peaks of Flat Top, Arjuna, and Brammah I and II. The interesting thing about these peaks is that Brammah II is the highest of the lot, despite its name suggesting otherwise. However, Brammah I is definitely the most dramatic, rising theatrically from the western edge from a lower base.
Billo ki Powri, Engraved Stairs refers to more than 400 steps carved out of a rock face. The staircase leads to a point called the Dawariyai, which is also the take-off site for paragliding enthusiasts. The stairs are believed to have been carved by the former king of Chenani as a short cut to the town of Batote, and are a fine example of craftsmanship, given the lack of mechanical tools at the time when they were created. Due to extensive use over the years, the lower quarter of the staircase has all but eroded, leaving about 270 recognisable steps. The steps are quite steep and resemble a ladder rather than a staircase. The higher you climb, the more stunning becomes the view of the town of Kud. On a clear day, you can even see the national highway snaking through Chenani. During monsoon, the whole area is enveloped in thick clouds, making for an unforgettable experience.
Vaishnodevi and Shiv Garh Pilgrimage Spots
Shiv Garh (11 kilometers away from Patnitop) is a reached via a pleasant day-hike trail through pine forests. It is a starting point for long and short treks to nearby mountains. Shiv Garh is quite peaceful, and offers splendid views of the mountain towns of Kud and Batote. As you drive down the road, the mighty Himalayas seem to accompany you on your journey, and the sun plays hide and seek amidst the tall pine trees. Not many tourists are seen here. In summer, the temperature ranges from 7 degrees to 30 degree Celsius, which is quite pleasant for an invigorating trek, but dips considerably in winter, from -2 – 18 degree Celsius.
Said to be about 2,800 year old, the temple has some nice architectural features and houses a natural black marble, a trident (trishul) belonging to Lord Shiva and a mace (gada) that is said to have belonged to Bheema, one of the five legendary Pandava brothers. It sits at an altitude of 1,225 meters above sea level, and also has a spring named Pap Nashni Bowli, where taking a bath is believed to free one from all their sins.
A festival, which takes place over three days, is organised on the night of the full moon of Sawan month in June and July to worship the deity. It can be quite spectacular and attracts large numbers of pilgrims. Such is the fame of this festival that the state government makes provisions for additional accommodation for visitors, and government agencies also ensure adequate transport. You can stay in a tent provided by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism department or a sarai (hostel for a brief stay) maintained by the Dharamarth Trust. Temporary shops selling all manner of snacks and objects also pop up during this time, ensuring that guests have all provisions for a comfortable stay. You can relish food items like chatni with pudina and anardana, and rajma chawal during the festival, as well as kalari (a traditionally ripened Kashmir cheese) and soft kulchas (sour bread).
Vaishnodevi (50 miles from Jammu) is the destination of one India's most famous annual pilgrimage. The shrine is the home of "Vaishno Mata," a goddess who sought refuge in a cave to escape a demon. After slaying the demon the goddess took permanent residence in the cave. Millions of pilgrims journey to Vasihnodevi to pay their respect to the goddess. The 13 kilometer route to the shrine has now been paved and ponies are available for hire. Along the way food stalls supply pilgrims with beverages, tea, water and food.
The excitement grows as the pilgrims near their destination. Many of them chant "Jai Mata Di!" over and over and shout a greeting at any passerby. Outside the entrance to the shrine, a low overhang in the cave, there is a long line. Once inside pilgrims have to wade through a stream of cold water to the sanctorum where there is a hurried "drashan" of the goddess. The exit is by a corridor that leads outward through a different route.
Vale of Kashmir
Vale of Kashmir is the name of the Kashmir Valley, which forms the heart of Kashmir. It is 134 kilometers (90 miles) long and 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide and surrounded by mountains, which reach a height up to 5,150 meters (16,900 feet). The average elevation of the valley is about 1,500 meters (4920 feet). Many rivers and streams pour into the valley, providing its with ample sources of water. The climate is temperate with four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Much of the annual precipitation of 66 centimeters falls in the form of snow. The mean temperature for January is about 0 degrees C. In the summer temperatures often rise above 35 degrees C.
The first recognized historical narrative of India, the Rajatarangini (“River of Kings”), composed in the mid 12th century, by a Kashmiri Brahman, Kalhana, speaks of a mythical origin of the valley in a sacred lake. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in 1940 of his birthplace: "Kashmir calls back, its pull stronger than ever, it whispers its fairy magic to the ears, and its memory disturbs the mind."
The Vale of Kashmir is very fertile as a result of thousands of years of alluvial Himalayan soil accumulating on its floor. It is bordered to the south by the Pir Panjal Range and to the north by the Himalayas. It is filled with lakes, flower mustard fields, vineyards, large marijuana patches. rice paddies, saffron crocus fields, pine and fir forest and orchards with apples, pears, apricots, plums, walnuts and almond trees. Forests on the lower slopes contain sycamores, cedars, pines and oaks.
Places near Srinagar include Mattan (64 kilometers away), a spring with a Shiva temple; Martamd (64 kilometers ), an ancient set of ruins with a 7th century temple honoring the Sun God; and Avantipur (30 kilometers), another set ancient temples with a 9th century shrine honoring Shiva. Sangam is famous for it polished cricket bats made of seasoned willow. Along the road you can see many small workshops with men and boys fashioning bats by hand from blocks of willow.
Trekking in this region has traditionally been done with scrawny-looking ponies. Kokernah (70 kilometers) has mineral springs and a botanical garden. There is a lovely 80-foot waterfall in Ararbal (50 kilometers); a quiet 7,500-foot-high retreats surrounded by pine trees in Yusmarg (40 kilometers); and a 4,750-foot-high lake in Manasbal (32 kilometers away).
Pampore (15 kilometers from Srinagar) is one of few places outside Spain that cultivates saffron, one of the world’s most expensive spices. Situated on the eastern side of River Jhelum, Pampore is often called the saffron town of Kashmir. According to legend around 500 B.C., Persian rulers brought saffron to India and planted Persian saffron corms in the soil of Kashmir. Two sufi ascetics, Sheikh Sharif-u-d-din Wali and Khwaja Masood Wali, are said to have brought saffron to India between the 11th and 12th centuries. until this day, the two saints are thanked during the harvesting season of saffron in late autumn. A tomb and a golden-domed shrine have been dedicated to them in Pampore.
Wular Lake (60 kilometers from Srinagar) is the largest fresh water lake in India and one of the largest natural freshwater lakes in Asia. Nestled amid the snow-capped Himalayas and pristine and lush greenery at an elevation of 1,525 meters (5,000 feet), the lakes was formed by a tectonic activity and is partly fed by the Jhelum river. The size of the lake varies according to the season. Sometimes it is a 30-square-kilometer pool; other times it is a vast 60-square-kilometer expanse. It is said that the lake used to be bigger in size but much of its water was drained out when willow plantations were built on its shore in the 1950s. Today, Wular (also spelled as Wullar) Lake is also regarded as birdwatcher's haven and a good fishing spot. Common carp, rosy barb, mosquitofish and several snowtrout can all be caught there. . The lake is a great place for family outings on houseboats and narrow boats that can be hired to cruise along the lake.
Sonmarg (Sonamarg) (on the road between is the gateway to Ladakh and is known for its verdant and picturesque valleys and snow-clad peaks. Known as the Meadow of Gold, and located at an altitude of 2,740 meters, it an ideal stopover and enjoy camping or rest in a tourist bungalow. The River Sindh winds its way through the valley among silver birch, fir, pine and alpine flowers. Sonmarg is also the base destination from where the famous Amarnath Yatra starts. Among the interesting places nearby are one-kilometerlong Vishansar Lake, the source of River Nelum and Thajiwas Glacier. You can go white water rafting at Shutkari Bridge. Sonmarg is only accessible during the summer months as winters are cold, harsh and experience heavy snowfall and avalanches. Historically, Sonmarg was the gateway to the Silk Road route along to Gilgit )now in Pakistan). It connected Tibet with Kashmir. One of the highest passes for road transport, Zoji La Pass is located around 15 kilometers east of Sonmarg.
Neolithic Settlement of Burzahom (five kilometers north of Srinagar) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Neolithic Site of Burzahom, in the district of Srinagar, India brings to light transitions in human habitation patterns from Neolithic Period to Megalithic period to the early Historic period. From transition in architecture to development in tool-making techniques to introduction and diffusion of lentil in the northwestern India, the site of Burzahom is a unique comprehensive story teller of life between 3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The remains of the site document the gradual change in the nature of dwelling spaces among early societies. From subterranean dwelling pits, the evidences in the site show the emergence of mud-structures, thereon mud-bricks constructions on level ground. The range of tools recovered from the site shows the evolution in tool making Neolithic men skilled hunters and their knowledge in applying the implements for cultivation.
“The subterranean pit-dwelling of Neolithic men (Aceramic Neolithic/Period I) were cut into the natural soil usually dug out with long stone celts, the cuts-marks of which can still be traced. The pits were circular or oval in plan, narrow at the top and wide at the base having (wooden) post holes on the ground level suggesting a birch cover as a protection against the harsh weather. Some pits were shallower, with depth of about 91 centimeters (as opposed to 3.95 meters depth) and were possibly either storage pits or those used as dwellings during warmer period. Stone hearths have also been found at ground levels, near the mouth of pits, showing that habitation activities were also at the ground level. Ascribed to the same era are subterranean dwellings of quadrangular section, covered by a layer of birch, with a centrally placed stone or clay hearth and storage pit.
“The several pottery shards of steel grey, dull red, brown or buff have been recovered from the pits as one of the material remain. Crude in finish, the continuity of these types of crude pottery can be seen in today's Kashmir. Apart from pottery, bones and stone tools like harpoons, needles with or without eyes, awls used probably for stitching skins, spear-points, arrow-heads and daggers for hunting game, scrapers for treating skins, stone axes, chisels, adzes, pounders, mace-heads, points and picks were used by the Neolithic settlers in this period. Apart from stone, antlers were also used for tool-production. This layer is marked by absence of any burial system as well as cultivation.
“In the next stage (Ceramic Neolithic/Period II) structures in mud or mud bricks with regular floors made of rammed karewa soil, often reusing pits by filling in with mud and finished by plastering a layer of mud, covered with a thin coat of red ochre as well as timbre showing evolution in construction techniques. This layer also yielded few copper arrowheads, black-ware pottery, a dish with a hollow stand, globular pot, jar, stem with triangular perforations, a funnel-shaped vase, a wheel made red ware pot with contained 950 beads, beads of areore, agate and carnelian and painted pots, the latter could have been an evidence of a trade. One of the unique finds of this layer is a red-ware pot with a horned figure painted on it. The stone and bone-wares of this period shows distinct development in finish. Of the implements recovered, the rectangular harvesters with a curved cutting edge with two or more holes on either side, double edged picks in stone, long sized needles with or without eye and the unique borer on a long hollow bone, like the cobbler's poker. An instance of art-producing behaviour of Neolithic men is witnessed in the site where an engraved stone depicting a hunting scene, with human, a dog, the sun path diagram has been found.
“The earliest remains of pit burial is ascribed to the Period II. Oval pits were dug into the house floor and were plastered with lime and bodies were placed with red-ochre on the bones. Skeletons were also found in crouched positions often without any grave furniture while in some instances accompanied with animal skeletal remains. Seven evidences of complete and four incomplete evidences of trepanning of human skulls have also been noted. One of the interesting burials recovered is that of five wild dogs and antler's horn.
“The Neolithic period is followed by Megalithic culture associated with the erection of massive stones or menhirs, most probably as commemorative establishments. The material culture recovered constitutes of a gritty red ware pottery, manufactured in potters wheel, metal objects and few tools made of bone and stone continued. Rubble structures associated with the Megalithic men have also been found. The last level of activity at Burzahom is ascribed to the early historical period and is dateable to 3rd-4th century A.D. Mudbrick structures, pottery manufactured in a wheel and a few metal objects have been found from this era.
“The practice of agriculture has been established through the tools and finding of palaeo-botanic analysis. Periods I and II provided evidence for wheat, barley and lentil cultivation. The presence of lentil in the Burzahom Neolithic further explains that the people of Burzahom had wide contacts with Central Asia, a critical evidence of the human movement through mountain passes into the Kashmir valley.”
Harwan (20 kilometers northeast of Srinagar) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the Silk Road Sites in India in 2010 . According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The archeological site of Harwan was a thriving and a prosperous Buddhist settlement in the early centuries of Christian era. The complex of Harwan consists of a monastery for the monks, prayer hall or Chaitya, and a Stupa dated to fourth or fifth century A.D. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]
“The most important feature of the site of great archaeological value is the terracotta or baked clay titles, which embellished the Chaitya or Buddhist temple. It is an apsidal Chaitya or horseshoe arched temple in diaper pebble style with a tiled courtyard as circumambulatory passage. These Harwan terracotta floor covering have unique place in the plastic art of India represented beautifully in the Kashmir valley for the first time. The tiles in backed clay are 18'x12'' long and moulded with floral, geometrical, human and animal designs. They reflect a colorful and pulsating life style of the contemporary society.
“Some tiles have dancing girls, and musician beating the drums lovers chatting on the balconies a favorite theme depicted on them. There are rams and cocks fighting, geese running, ducks and pheasants within a floral pattern. The geometric design consists of wary lines, frets and fish bone patterns lotus and aquatic plants and various types of flowers adequately represented. The site represents a unique tradition of Kashmir which was connected with the Silk Road in its architecture and art, particularly in the decorated patterns of terracotta tile-pavements in the apsidal stupa which became a symbol of the art of Kashmir.
Dachigam National Park
Dachigam National Park (22 kilometers from Srinagar) is a 140-square-kilometer sanctuary for endangered animals such as the Himalayan black bear, brown bear, musk deer, leopards, long-tailed marmots, yellow-throated marten, common palm civets, Himalayan weasel jackals, red fox and hangul (or Kashmir stag), the most endangered species of red deer in the world. Birds such black partridge, monal pheasant, blue magpie and lammergeier are commonly seen. Walk-and drive safaris are offered through the grasslands. Cliffs, pine-covered hills and rock outcrops that were the scenes of fighting between separatist militant and Indian government forces. There are also rare species of flowers and trees.
Dachigam National Park is almost rectangular in shape and divided into two parts Upper Dachigam and Lower Dachigam. The former extends over the higher reaches of the park and can be reached after a day's trek from the nearest road. Meanwhile, Lower Dachigam comprises around a third of the total area of the national park, which is best known for the endangered species of Kashmir stag or hangul.
The best time to visit is between spring and autumn, when sightings of the Himalayan black bear often occur. In 1910 the area, which is now occupied by Dachigam National Park, was given protection by the then maharaja of Kashmir, when he delineated the valley as a game reserve. The maharaja also got a large number of trees like horse chestnut and oaks planted, which were favored by the wild denizens and supplied winter fodder to them.
Verinag (80 kilometers from Srinagar) features the remains of a Mughal pavilion and bath built at the 6,000-foot high source of the Jhelem River; According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Verinag is an octagonal pavilion-garden, built around a spring which is the acknowledged source of Jehlum River and also its principal feeder. The garden was constructed by Mirza Haider, an able engineer of the Mughal Court at the behest of Emperor Jahangir. A Persian quatrain indicates the date of construction of the garden as 1619-20. The garden was enlarged further between 1626 and 1627, during Emperor Shah Jahan's reign and was renamed Shahabad. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The spring is enclosed within a perfectly geometric octagonal arcade with a fairly wide stone walkway that surrounds the spring. In plan, the garden is a large octagonal tank connected to a very long and straight water channel (12' wide and 1000' long) going towards the north that reaches a point where it discharges to feed the Jehlum River. The spring is believed to be at its deepest around 15.24 meters and has abundant trout fish, which is claimed to have never been consumed owing to certain religious sentiments. This attitude has helped in maintaining the spring as a rich fish-reserve.
“A number of baradaris, royal bathrooms, were also constructed in the garden, which have been lost over time. The garden, as many Kashmiri Mughal gardens, was repaired extensively during Dogra period in 1870s. The outstanding quality of Verinag is the blend of the surrounding landscape with the formal geometry of the garden. The abrupt rise of the densely forested hills creates a distinctive background to the arcaded pavilion around the spring. While the forests are rich in deodars6, the blue-green waters of the spring are replete with fish. The formality created by the octagonal perimeter around the spring and the linear water channel suddenly disappears when the water merges with the natural course of the Jhelum River. Verinag was the personal favorite of Emperor Jahangir and it was his great wish to be buried here.
Achabal Bagh (near Anantnag, 30 kilometers south of Srinagar and 20 kilometers south of Pahalgam) predates the arrival of the Mughals in Kashmir. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The royal garden of Achabal was renowned even during the time of the Sultans of Kashmir in the 15th C. when an orchard garden existed at the site. The ancient Hindu text of Nilmat Purana mentions the existence of a spring by the name of Achapal Nag at the site. The present garden was laid by Empress Nur Jahan in 1620 and was named after her as Begumabad. The garden was also known as Sahebabad during the Mughal period, in memory of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The spring at the Achabal Bagh was popular at one time for its curative values and the amount of water it supplied. The Achabal Bagh, with its abundant Chinar trees and roaring water channels, is yet another embodiment of the Mughal landscape genius demonstrated in Kashmir.
“The garden is trapezoidal in shape with an area of around 9.7 acres and follows the traditional char bagh concept. It is developed on the base of a forested mountain, locally known as Acchabal Thung. The pre-existing garden was greatly enhanced and rearranged by Empress Noor Jehan and consisted of four gently ascending terrace levels, based on the theme of the chahar bagh. The central feature of the garden is the spring, whose water is collected in a canal (nahr), branch canals (jadwal, juyee) with platforms (nashiman) and pavilions (baradari) built over the water channel. The spring which is presently protected under a modern shelter feeds the entire garden for its irrigation as well as aesthetic needs. It combines the appeal of a stately stone bordered pleasance lying in between ordered avenues of full grown trees with the natural rock and woodland background. A hammam was constructed within the garden by Jehanra Begum, the eldest daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th C. The remains of an earlier baradari or pavilion can still be seen on the site of the spring.
“The mountain (Acchabal Thung) looms impressively over the garden and creates a splendid background for it. The Achabal Bagh is remote and is still largely unaffected by urban development or civil infringement and therefore there are good opportunities for defining buffer areas around it for its long-term protection and sustenance. The Achabal Bagh may seem similar to other Mughal Gardens of Kashmir in terms of layout but it is strikingly distinctive in its visual quality and experience. The scale of the garden is also modest when compared with its other parallels in Kashmir, yet it is unique for its remote location and natural setting. Furthermore, the garden continues to rely on its original source of water supply which for some other Mughal Gardens of Kashmir and elsewhere has either eroded or disappeared over the course of time. The garden was developed around a natural spring that existed in the area by the name of Achapal Nag, explaining where the name of the garden originated from.”
Pahalgam (100 kilometers from Srinagar) is a beautiful resort on the banks of the Lidder River. Surrounded by cedar and pine tree forest, apple orchards, snow-covered Himalayan peaks and deep valleys and skirted by the gushing glacial Lidder river, it is good starting point for treks to the Kolahoi Glacier and other destinations. It is located at an elevation of 2130 meters (7,000 feet).
Pahalgam is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the Kashmir Valley. Located at the confluence of two streams flowing from the pristine Sheshnag lake and the Lidder river, it was originally a humble shepherd's village but now has a golf course. The huge, undulating meadow of Baisaran, surrounded by thickly wooded pine forests is worth checking out. Known for its stunning landscape, Pahalgam has been the location for several Bollywood films, including the superhit “Betaab” (1983), after which the Betaab Valley is named Chandanwari glacier point is a popular trekking destination.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is at Srinagar. A cab or taxi can be hired to reach Pahalgam. By Road: Pahalgam is well-connected by reasonably good roads with the rest of the Kashmir valley. By Train: Udhampur railway station located around 218 kilometers away is the nearest station to Pahalgam.
Kolahoi Glacier (30 kilometers from Pahalgam) is popular trekking destination. Phirilasan (8 kilometers away) is known for its trout fishing. Among the lovely high altitude lakes are Trasar (25 kilometers away), Marsar and Tulian. Wildlife enthusiasts can visit Shikargarh Wildlife Reserve. Achabal (64 kilometers from Srinagar) was a favorite retreat of Empress Nur Jahan and has a Mughal garden famous for it chinar groves, waterfall and fountains. Kokarnga, 12 kilometers further, is known for its medicinal springs.
Lidder River skirts Pahalgam) and flows through the lush landscape of the snow-capped Pir Panjal mountain range. Flowing through the Lidder valley, the river is a tributary of the Indus River. One can engage in various water sports here like fishing, fishing, whitewater rafting and horse riding. The river has two tributaries — Lidder East, flowing from Sheshnag Lake, and Lidder West, flowing from Kolahoi glacier. The tributaries merge in a flat and broad stretch next to the town. The river is also the main source of water for Anantnag region that can only be accessed by trekking.
Aru Valley (12 kilometers from Pahalgam and about 11 kilometers upstream from the Lidder river) is beautiful place with majestic snow-covered Himalayan peaks and wildflower-filled meadows. The village is a starting point for trekking to Kolahoi glacier and Sonmarg, which takes about three days. There are good camping sites in the valley. The best time to visit the place is from March to November. During winters, when the land freezes over, the village becomes a skiing haven.
Betaab Valley is a gorgeous expanse by the Lidder river, offering panoramic views of the Himalayas. It is covered by a thick forest of deodar and pine trees and is dotted with colorful flowers. The valley also serves as a base camp for trekkers and is a good place to start a further exploration of the mountains. Betaab Valley gained prominence after the Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh film, Betaab, was shot here in 1983. The valley was named after the hit film. The lies on the pilgrimage route to famed Amarnath temple yatra and is one of the three stunning valleys of Pahalgam, the other two being Chandanwadi and Aru. It lies halfway along the Chandanwari road and was earlier known as Hagan valley or Hagoon.
Amarnath: Pilgrimage to Shiva's Cave
Amarnath Cave (50 kilometers from Pahalgam) contains a pillar of ice, which forms every year. Hindus regard it as a large lingam, a phallic symbol representing the Hindu god Shiva. Located at an altitude of over 12,000 feet, the cave is a shrine that attracts tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees during the annual mid-July-to-mid-August pilgrimage known as the Amarnath Yatra. The cave has been a pilgrimage site since the 1970s when a Hindu priest viewed the ice pillar and declared the cave as the mythical home of Shiva.
The ice pillar used about three meters tall but has shrunk in recent years and varies in size from year to year. Pilgrims from across the globe visit the Amarnath shrine. Hindus believe it was in the cave that Shiva revealed the secrets of life and immortality to his divine consort Parvati. The sacred stalagmite appears each year in the cave — although it often melts away before the annual pilgrimage ends. According to Reuters, “Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims trek through treacherous mountains in revolt-torn Kashmir, along icy streams, glacier-fed lakes and frozen passes, to reach the Amarnath cave, located at an altitude of 3,800 meters (12,700 feet). The phallus-shaped stalagmite is believed to be a symbol of Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration. [Source: Reuters, June 29, 2007]
Around a half million pilgrims visit Amarnath during the 55 day pilgrimage season in June, July and August. More than 350,000 pilgrims hiked to the cave in 2013, which ended on August 21, down from a record number of 620,000 in 2012. Rainy weather and a security clampdown following communal clashes were partially responsible for the drop in 2013 officials said.
Devotees come in large numbers even though the pilgrimage has been attacked in the past by Muslim rebels opposed to Indian rule of the region. “All difficulties and worries vanish by visiting this place. That is why everyone comes here," said Shopinder Achariya, a pilgrim from the Indian city of Lucknow who has trekked to the shrine every year since 2001. “This place is special because here Lord Shiva narrated the eternal story to Mother Parvati."
Madhur Singh wrote in Time: “High up in the stunning Kashmir Valley lies a natural cave called Amarnath, where stalagmites form during the summer months. Devout Hindus believe this cave to be one of the holiest sites of their religion, and that the largest of the ice formations is a Shiva Lingam, the symbol of Lord Shiva. Hindu mythology has it that Shiva — the destroyer in the Hindu Trinity that includes Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver — imparted the secrets of creation to his consort, Parvati, in Amarnath. Each year, during the months of July and August, hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims from across India and abroad take an arduous five'day, 40-mile trek to worship at this cave. The cave is a gigantic challenge to managing the logistics of the pilgrimage — not only is it perched 4,000 meters (12,000 ft) above sea level where rain, snow and landslides are common, it is also plunk in the middle of the insurgency-ravaged Kashmir Valley. And with ever greater numbers of pilgrims coming in the government reasoned that more temporary shelters were required. And so on May 26 the ruling Congress-led government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to divert 100 acres of forest land to erect such facilities for Hindu pilgrims. [Source: Madhur Singh, Time, August 6, 2008]
The pilgrimage was disrupted by trouble in Kashmir but was brought back to life with assistance from columns Indian soldiers and free food. Some 200,000 pilgrimages participated in the annual event in the 1990s. Islamic insurgents staged attacks against the pilgrims in 2000 and 2001 that left 40 people dead. In 2002 thousands of soldiers and police were deployed to protect the pilgrims. As the situation has improved in the mid-2000s the pilgrims began returning. Weather can also be a problem. In 1996, 100 pilgrims died in a freak storm. Every year a few pilgrims and porters slip off the paths and tumble to their deaths.
See Separate Article HINDU PILGRIMAGES: VARANASI, MT. KAILASH, AMARNATH factsanddetails.com
Amarnath Pilgrimage Route
Every summer for two months, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus, some chanting hymns, trek high into the Himalayas in Indian Kashmir in a gruelling pilgrimage to a cave shrine. Surrounded by clouds and 3,800 meters (12,800 feet) above sea level, the Amarnath shrine is one of Hinduism's most revered sites. [Source: AFP, August 28, 2013]
Much of the main pilgrimage route is comprised of two parallel dirt track that wind through meadows, pine forests, and past rushing streams and granite cliffs. Many of the pilgrims have marks on their forehead, wear orange clothes and shout “Hail, Hail, Shiva!” as they walk along. They include barefoot sadhus, naked to the waist, marching with tridents, symbols of Shiva; elderly men and women carried in lawn chairs by thin but muscular porters; amputees walking on their stumps; and women in pink, red and yellow saris, with infants in their arms. For those who don't want to walk locals rent out scrawny-looking ponies they can ride on.
The traditionally pilgrimage is from the south and is 36 mile long. Places of interest on this trek are Chandanwari (10 miles), Sheshnag (7 miles) and Panchtarni (8 miles). The trek is generally done in three days, which means two nights are spent sleeping outside in temperatures that often drop below freezing. A new route has opened up from the north in the early 2000s. It is 19 miles long which ,means that pilgrims can do the whole pilgrimage in one day. Many yuppies and middle class families can be found on this route.
Pilgrims are only allowed to view the pillar for a couple minutes. Many ritually bath in an icy stream and change into clean clothes first and then wait in line for up to two hours until it is their turn. Around the cave is a parade of hawkers selling every thing from lingams to postcards to soft drinks. When pilgrims enter the cave they ring bells and hail Shiva. Some are disappointed when they finally see the pillar, which is protected behind iron bars. In 2002 the pillar was only 12 inches high. Many want to confess their sins and make request to Shiva but are ordered by soldiers to move along. [Source: David Rohde, New York Times, August 5, 2002]
Gulmarg (52 kilometers from Srinagar) is a small resort town and scenic valley whose name means “Meadow of Flowers.” It is the home of the world's highest golf course (2,682 meters, 8,800 feet). It also known for its ski resorts. Situated at an altitude of 2,730 meters above sea level, the town is surrounded by snow-covered peaks of the mighty Pir Panjal range, lush green meadows, deep ravines, pine-forested hills and valleys.
Gulmarg ski slopes is offer skiing, snow-boarding, off-piste skiing and helicopter-skiing and have been declared the 7th best ski area in Asia. It offers long run, and snowboarding. The most impressive mountain is 4,390-meter (14,403-foot) -high Apharwat, which is accessible via the Gulmarg Gondolam the second-highest cable car ride in the world.. A ride in this gondola is a spectacular experience as it glides over hills and valleys and seems to get lost in mist and cloud.!
Gulmarg once was a vacation spot for royalty and aristocracy. It is said that Sultan Yousuf Shah first spotted this valley, and gave its name after see the area’s grassy slopes emblazoned with wild flowers. It was also a favorite retreat of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. The British first opened it up as a ski resort by setting up the Ski Club of India in 1927. Several movies have been shot here.
Gulmarg is especially scenic the spring when the rolling green meadows carpeted by wild flowers are framed by cloud-shrouded, snow-clad mountains. In the winter, it is completely covered in snow and transforms into ski resort. Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is located in Srinagar, about 57 kilometers from Gulmarg. Regular flights connect Srinagar with the other major cities in India. By Road: Gulmarg is well connected by road to Srinagar, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Jammu and various other cities of Jammu and Kashmir. By Train: The nearest railway station is located in Jammu, which is connected to other cities of India.
Sight in Gulmarg
Kanchenjunga Museum was developed as a high-altitude warfare school initially, it was later set up to commemorate the first summit of Indian Army to Kanchenjunga in 1997. The museum houses excellent displays of modern warfare, mountaineering equipment and gear used in mountains by the Indian Army. Other expeditions like the first successful expedition to the Everest have been given a due place here. The museum is a symbol of respect for the Indian Army and shows how the soldiers spend their lives while guarding the borders of the nation. Some of the equipment housed here includes ropes and grappling hooks.
Skiing In Gulmarg: Gulmarg has traditionally been the most popular ski area in India. It has been ranked as 7th among skiing and snowboarding sites in Asia, and has also been recognized as a Best Ski Destination by CNN International. The height of slopes in Gulmarg vary between 2,650 meters (8,700 feet) and 3200 meters (10,500 feet) and their gradients are easy enough for beginners and challenging for experts. The snow level reaches as high as two and a half meters (eight feet) in January and February. Tobogganing and sledding can be enjoyed and snow cycling, snow rugby and snow cricket events are sponsored. Experts can head to helicopter and off-piste sites in the Pir Panjal range at a height of 14,000 feet that is carpeted with powder snow.
Kongdoori Valley (near Gulamag, about an hour from Srinagar) is the home of the world’s highest gondola. Built at a cost of $3.5 million, the 2½-kilometer lift runs from the valley to the 4,390-meter (14,403-foot) -high summit of Apharwat. A French contractor started the project but abandoned it in 1990 after some its workers were abducted by separatist militants. Alpather lake (12 kilometers from Gulmarg) is a beautiful lake situated at the foot of Apharwat peak. Parts of it remain frozen until mid-June. Khilanmarg offers a spectacular view of Wular Lake and the surrounding mountains. The tomb of the Muslim saint Baba Payum-u-din is located at Ziarat of Babareshi (reached by a three mile road through thick forests).
Yusmarg (47 kilometers from Srinagar, 90 kilometers from Gulmarg) is known for its grassy pastures and deep forests, with the snow-covered mountains forming a stunning backdrop. Less visited than other tourist destinations in the Kashmir Valley, it is located at a height of 2,712 meters (8900 feet), it offers skiing in the winters and hiking in the summer through green meadows covered with wildflowers and ponies galloping around. One can take charming walks through pine forests and across streams. There are cottages in the meadows, including one run by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department. Trekkers can go up to the mountain peaks of Tata Kuti and Sang Safed, about a day away from Yusmarg, or check out the nearby Dudh Ganga river and Nilnag Lake.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020